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MIPTV: BBC Orders World War I Drama

BBC Ben Stephenson - H 2013

The British public broadcaster commissions the five-part "The Great War" from "Life on Mars" writer Tony Jordan, to mark the centenary of the start of the war.

LONDON -- Red Planet Pictures, the independent production company set up by award-winning writer Tony Jordan, has inked a deal to produce a five-part drama for BBC One as part of the channel’s programming around the centenary of World War One.

Ben Stephenson, controller for BBC Drama and Danny Cohen, controller for BBC One, told attendees the news at MIPTV in Cannes Tuesday.

Billed as an epic series, The Great War will tell its tale through the eyes of two ordinary young men who enlist in a war they expect will be over within months. As the conflict unfolds, so do the boys' stories, as they grow up amid the horror of war, and find love.

The drama, produced by Red Planet Pictures through BBC Cymru Wales Drama, has been written by Jordan (Hustle, Life on Mars, The Nativity) who will also executive produce.

Bethan Jones will executive produce for the BBC.

The series is set to air throughout Armistice Week 2014, marking the 100th anniversary of the start of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.

Jordan said: "The First World War is undoubtedly one of the most catastrophic events of modern history with a devastating impact on human life across the world. Often, the sheer magnitude of suffering during this time makes it hard for audiences to understand the very personal pain that was inflicted on countless families and young men. "

BBC Worldwide is pre-selling the show internationally and is in talks with international production partners for the project at MIPTV.

Speaking today at MIPTV, Stephenson gave a keynote speech championing the role of BBC Drama in the global market and his ambition to strengthen its international reputation.

He said: "Quality and creative integrity are crucial to achieving international success. Co-production should be a means of achieving the scale of a writer’s vision, not a creative compromise. The best dramas translate internationally because they are driven by an ambition that goes to the heart of the piece."

Stephenson also trumpeted writer and creator Jimmy McGovern's latest show as a reflection of the "growing ambition of British television."

McGovern and RSJ Films are going into pre-production with a continuing drama serial, inspired by the events of the late 1780s, when Britain deported its unwanted citizens to the very edge of the known world.

Said Stephenson: "Both of these new commissions are passion projects for Jimmy McGovern and Tony Jordan -- and are projects only the BBC would make."